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When they say, `Game Over,' they mean it

The makers of a new video game are offering a dress rehearsal for the apocalypse.

May 16, 2006|JOEL STEIN

I'VE BEEN LAZY about preparing for the apocalypse.

I have no distilled water, millet, gold bars, garlic or wooden stakes. I don't really know much about the apocalypse.

To teach people like me who are too lazy to actually read about it, a small company is releasing a video game at the end of the year based on the phenomenally bestselling "Left Behind" books, which are based on the book of Revelations. This seemed even more exciting than my idea for a video game based on the books of the Bible that list obscure Jewish laws -- the part where you are being chased by a huge bacon cheeseburger is pretty intense.

The game creators agreed to let me learn about revelation by playing "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" at last week's Electronic Entertainment Expo. The company's website bills the game as "the ultimate fight of Good against Evil," in which you use "the power of prayer to strengthen your troops."

As I drove in circles around the packed L.A. Convention Center for an hour and finally found a lot that only charged $20, I realized that I was embarking upon the greatest effort to avoid reading since the creation of USA Today.

When I finally got to the company's booth, Left Behind Games President Jeffery Frichner agreed to play against me. He assured me that he had no advantage because, despite the fact that he sold his house to raise money for the company, he'd never played the game. It seems you get pretty cocky when you've got the divine force behind you.

Because I'm Jewish, I told Frichner that he could play the side of the good guys and that I'd be Satan. That's when Frichner informed me that he grew up as a religious Jew in Queens who went to temple every Saturday.

Stranger yet for a born-again Christian, he had acted in a movie with Scott Baio. Frichner was going to know all my Satan tricks.

The first thing Frichner did was to have one of his Christian characters approach a civilian lazily walking down a midtown Manhattan street in the middle of the battle over Earth and stand next to him for two seconds, which instantly converted him.

I did not think converting would be as easy for my side. I was going to have to spend long minutes challenging people to guitar contests that I very well might lose.

The good thing was, however, that as Satan, I of course had the United Nations on my side. As my peacekeeping Hummer and some of my followers rolled down Sixth Avenue, the Christians outflanked me and started firing, immediately taking out several of my nurses.

The apocalypse, I was learning, was a good excuse for Christians to just go nuts and unload a lot of pent-up stuff. Armageddon is like their version of divorce.

By the end, Frichner had 24 soldiers and I had three. Defeated, I asked him if the game had accomplished its objective of making him feel invigorated about the believers' role in the end of the world. "I thought I was playing the devil," he said with a confused look. I took that as a no.

As far as my role as Satan, Frichner assured me that things would actually be good for the Jews in the final days. "In the book series, three Jews are the most prominent evangelists. The Jews more than anyone believe in the messiah," he said.

All I will have to do once I notice that the end is approaching -- and it looked kind of obvious in the game, with loads of angels and devils grabbing people near the Port Authority -- is embrace Jesus. There's no millet involved.

Frichner was so nice and open that I almost wanted to convert for him right then. In fact, the game had made fundamentalists a lot less scary to me.

Their belief in the imminent end of days is so exciting. Human history, to them, really is a video game with a wildly action-packed third act and the happiest ending imaginable. It's a beautiful thought, even when you're shooting nurses and blowing up U.N. peacekeeping helicopters.

For a moment, looking at Frichner's kind face worrying for my soul, I wished that I believed in something that could be turned into a video game.

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